“Something happened when the memoirs of so-called ordinary people, like myself, suddenly hit the bestseller list.” -Frank McCourt
What was the source of the best advice you’ve received in life? Was it courtesy of a motivational quote from a famous person? Or was it something you heard from a “regular person”? What about the most inspirational life stories you’ve read? Did it take George Washington crossing the Delaware to move you into action? Or was it the story of a person like you who faced adversity in life and came out on the other side with lessons that helped you?
There’s a reason these “memoirs of so-called ordinary people” become bestsellers, and even outside that status they become extremely valuable to readers: relatability. From page one of a book, readers subconsciously look for things they have in common with the author.
George Washington was tired but he got up really early in the freezing cold on a holiday to go to work anyway? Hey, I’ve done that!
Because of their name recognition however, our first president and his fellow legendary historical figures have a headstart on the “ordinary people” authors in building reader rapport. If a famous person’s memoir doesn’t immediately hit the mark, readers are likely to give them a second chance. The ordinary people authors usually don’t have that luxury.
In memoirs and self-help books, the connection an author forges with readers determines whether their story and message can be trusted. No rapport, no read.
This is why it’s a risk going “all in” on either a straight memoir or exclusively self-help book. A life story for the sake of a life story, can lead the reader on a scavenger hunt for the lessons they can use. A purely self-help book, without the infusion of the author’s personal story, can come off as a preach-a-thon of “shoulds,” ungrounded in a personal connection (and therefore trust) with the narrator.
A self-help memoir works from the intersection of story and message. It’s where the stuff you’ve done meets the things you’ve learned. This style of book (which we specialize in here at The Ink Agency) brings versatility to the art of telling your story by weaving in the thread of lessons and wisdom that you’ve acquired by living that story. And when done well, the reader should not be able to separate story from lesson. They should blend together as smoothly as a perfect cup of coffee, with coffee, cream, and sugar becoming one delicious blended substance.
The self-help memoir is the perfect tool for we “ordinary people” authors to relate to readers. Most of us may lack a headline-making claim to fame, but that does not take away from the substance and depth of our life stories and the things we’ve learned that can help make another person’s life better.